Rod Miller: Blazing Saddles (or How Wyoming Deals With Racism in the 21st Century)

Columnist Rod Miller writes: "There is simply no way to sugar-coat Westerns tweet, and paint it as humorous, satirical, misunderstood or anything other than what it was... the most boneheaded kind of move that a politician could make."

Rod Miller

December 21, 20204 min read

Rod Miller
Rod Miller (Cowboy State Daily Staff)

Wyoming has a racist past, there’s just no way around it. Historical examples are rife…don’t make me repeat them here. And, because Wyoming fetishizes its past (the good parts and the bad parts), its no wonder that systemic racism is an unresolved social issue in the Equality State.

You’ve all heard about Representative Cyrus Western’s response to the first black Sheriff in Albany County taking office. I won’t repeat that here, either.

What I’d like you to think about is the reaction statewide to this event. Social media is all a-tremble with folks calling for Western to resign, to be forced from office, to be tarred and feathered and run out of town on a rail or otherwise removed from public life. This vigilante mentality is also a relic from the part of Wyoming’s past that is unfortunate, to put if kindly.

There is simply no way to sugar-coat Western’s tweet, and paint it as humorous, satirical, misunderstood or anything other than what it was… the most boneheaded kind of move that a politician could make.

Regardless of what was in his heart or mind when he made the post – and only Western himself can know that – he screwed up bigtime. Lets get that said right up front, there is no way that anyone can defend his post as anything else.

From what we hear, Western has called Sheriff Appelhans to apologize personally, and we are given to believe that the two of them had a constructive conversation. That was an incredibly necessary first step, but should by no means be considered an end to the issue. Had there not been that reaching out,though, there would not be the opportunity that now presents itself.

Likewise, if Western’s detractors, whatever their motivations, are successful in driving him from office, then an important opportunity is also lost. Put another way, if political bloodlust wins, then Wyoming is denied a chance to grow.

What kind of legislature do you want? Do you want a body that universally accepts your world view and lives up to your personal standards? I don’t want to burst your bubble, but good luck with that.

Or do you want a legislature that reflects your own human frailties, but despite them, works hard on your behalf? Do you want a representative body of perfect human beings (and again, good luck) or would you accept a legislature composed of flawed humans who make mistakes, but ultimately learn and grow from those mistakes?

Are we, as citizens of Wyoming, so brittle in our thinking that, when an elected official (regardless of party) disappoints us, we haul out the guillotine? Do we have such low esteem for our democracy that we don’t trust elections to purge out the unworthy?

Western has apologized to the person he should have. But he has other work to do, and we should let him do it, subject to the will of voters in his district. And that work, because of his action, will be done under a statewide microscope, and rightly so.

At least two good outcomes present themselves, thanks to Sheriff Aaron Appelhans and Representative Cyrus Western. The first would be an honest, statewide conversation about racism in Wyoming, led by these two elected officials.

The second would be a bit more long-term. In the fullness of time, Wyoming needs an anti-hate crime bill that codifies the first couple of sections in Article 1 of the Wyoming Constitution. That legislation will be fought hammer and tong by anyone who resists the egalitarian political dream of Wyoming.

I can think of no better elected officials to work on this legislation than the first black sheriff in Wyoming, and Representative Cyrus Western. And, for personal reasons, I’d like to see that legislation titled “The James Isaac Bill”.

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Rod Miller

Political Columnist